We decided to kill a feature to figure out how to make it better

Likes and hearts are all over collaboration and communication software today. Even Basecamp 3 has claps now. On the surface, that seems like a natural step forward: Make it easier to participate, provide encouragement, and create a sense of connection. But scratch that surface and there’s plenty of ambivalence below.

I first really noticed my ambivalence in our own product when reading through the daily updates of what people at Basecamp had been working on. We gather all those in a What did you work on today? automated check-in. (It’s one of my favorite features of Basecamp, and it makes it so much easier to keep up with what everyone is cooking without the constant nagging of a manager checking in.)

But as I read through the replies from the few dozen people who answered the question on any given day, I was faced with the dilemma of the clap. If I applauded an update from Sam yesterday, but don’t today, does that mean I’m expressing discontent with the most recent work? If I don’t applaud for Javan on the same day as I applaud for Sam, does that mean I’m parting favor of one over the other?

Frequently my answer to this question was: Applaud equally for everyone or no one. An easy out for anxiety, but not actually very helpful.

After reflecting on my own issues with minimal-effort encouragement, Jason and I discussed our options. No real immediate fixes came to mind. This is a fuzzy problem with lots of subtle trade-offs. So instead of trying ever-harder to think up the perfect solution, we grabbed the hammer instead and decided to whack the feature.

For our first 6-week cycle of the year, we’re doing without the power to clap for messages, comments, completed todos, or answers to automatic check-ins on our own account in Basecamp 3. No big discussion, no brainstorming, no endless contemplation. Just a big whack, and let’s see where this goes.

And go it went. When we announced the change internally, there was an outpouring of opinions. “Yes, I too have anxiety around the claps”, “Ugh, getting a daily report of applause is really annoying”, “I really use claps to say that I saw something”, “Hey, isn’t it interesting that we’re all commenting with a lot more depth now that the easy out of a clap isn’t there any more?”.

I don’t know what we’re ultimately going to do about applause in Basecamp 3, but I do know we’ll be much better informed by going without for a while on our own account. A foundation for making a better decision we wouldn’t have had if we had just kept talking about it.

When in doubt, give it a whack.